A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Messing with Google

I find it fascinating how Google directs people to this blog using certain keywords. In the interest of public service, I am here to help guide people who may encounter this blog through the mysteries of the Search Engine Gods:

1. To those of you who came here looking for Pearl Jam lyrics:

Yes, Eddie Vedder can be a great modern poet. The lyrics you seek are
"HEARTS and thoughts they fade, fade away..." not "thoughts and thoughts they fade..." This is from an excellent song entitled Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town. You can access the entire lyrics here. You got to my blog because I posted them here after my father passed away.

2. For those of you who wanted to find out about how the drive for test scores has caused primary grade recess to become the latest casualty in the eduwars, let me just tell you that I think that cancelling recess actually makes it more difficult for some kids to learn. Recess certainly was something that helped me recharge my batteries, back in the day. You would be looking for this post.

3. For those of you looking for an anticipatory set for teaching the book The Lovely Bones, you are in the wrong place. Since I became a mom, I can't read books like that any more. The thought of my child being killed keeps me from finishing the first ten pages. Maybe someday I wil be able to read that book, but right now, no way.

4. For those of you looking for a Fountains of Wayne blog, I would like that too. I very much admire this band, and strongly suggest you get their latest album, which is a collection of rarities entitled Out of State Plates. The post about them appeared here.

5. For those of you looking for the quote, "Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all," let me just say that that's a quote from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Princess Bride. That's from a post I wrote as my dad was dying.

6. For those of you wanting to teach school age kids about Iraq, I say, "Bravo!" Kids HAVE to understand this subject. I wrote about lack of even geographical knowledge about Iraq here.

I sometimes wonder about Google. How in the world do some of our posts end up coming up in searches?

I think I'll do a little experiment. Let's see what happens from this:

Shawn Colvin's new album, These Four Walls, is fabulous.

I think the Tiffany Hall, the woman who killed her pregnant friend --and the friend's three children-- plus the unborn baby in East St. Louis, IL is completely deserving of the death penalty.

I spent the weekend discussing liberation theology and biblical exegesis, and I still managed to enjoy myself.

I am deeply appalled by the lack of funding for US military bases as our brave military personnel obey the dictates of our government and fight overseas. It is their families who will suffer. You cannot fight a war on the cheap. "Support our troops," indeed, is more than a politically expedient sound bite.

Why is it that the some people cynically believe that the more something is repeated, no matter how obviously incorrect it is, the more people will believe it? And why is that sometimes true?

I also like the Bittersweets' new album, The Life You Always Wanted.

I HATE the term "Chick Flick." I am now going to watch some very manly movie with my husband, like The Transporter. But WHY do I watch it? Let's just say that Jason Statham is, ummmm, very easy on the eyes. So everybody wins, right? And just about every movie can be a "chick flick," too, with the right casting. Ahhhhhhh.

Take THAT, Google!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Carnivalicious 86! The Carnival of Education is up...

and its usual feisty self over at its homebase, The Education Wonks.

There's some new contributors who I've found quite intriguing.

Give 'er a go, won'tcha?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Movie Madness Monday 32: Queen Bee and Wannabe edition

It's Movie Madness Monday, again! Here's the deal: Each Monday, I post some salient quotes from one wonderful example from the world of film. You then respond to said quotes by posting a quote of your own from the same film. As I am addicted to quotes, I get validation, and you help me feel that I am not the only geek in the world that quotes huge blocks of text from movies that I have seen. I seek to delurk you through geekiness! Who can resist?

We will not tell what the movie is until Thursday, since I got a late start today.

So here we are, with a description of what I have HAVEN'T seen on cafeteria duty, praise the Maker:

"She knows everybody's business, she knows everything about everyone."
"That's why her hair is so big, it's full of secrets."

"I'm sorry that people are so jealous of me... but I can't help it that I'm so popular."

"That is so fetch!"

"Oh HELL, NO. I did NOT leave the South Side for this!"

"On Wednesdays we wear pink!"

"Why didn't they just keep home schooling you?"
"They wanted me to get socialized."
"Oh, you'll get socialized all right, a little slice like you."

"Irregardless, ex-boyfriends are just off limits to friends. I mean that's just like the rules of feminism."

"Now what the young ladies in this grade need is an attitude makeover. And you're going to get it, right now. I don't care how long it takes. I will keep you here all night."
"We can't keep them past four."
"I will keep you here until four."

****Thursday Update: This week's movie was:


Tina Fey was the best thing on Saturday Night Live since Jane Curtin, and she does an excellent job as screenwriter and actor in this fictionalized romp. Based on the non-fiction book, Queen Bees and Wannabes Tina turned this into a modern satire of all the popular girls we loved to hate in high school.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Cheating Culture, part 3: My parents made me do it

My pal EdWonk links to an article in the San Jose Mercury-News that talks about the prevalence of cheating in today's high schools. There's this:
The Advanced Placement government assignment over the summer was to read and analyze political commentator Chris Matthews' book "Hardball.'' So four friends at American High School in Fremont did what they say everyone else was doing: divvied up the 13 questions about the book and exchanged answers via e-mail. They each altered the text slightly, then handed in their individual papers.

The students call it collaboration. The teachers call it cheating.

As technology makes it easier than ever to cheat, educators are combating the intractable problem on at least three fronts: setting clear standards, using technology to fight back, and talking with students and parents about ethics and pressure.

Many students use e-mail to share work and program iPods and cell phones to cheat in class in new ways. On the flip side, schools can hire services that use computers to scan essays for plagiarism; one leading service claims its business is doubling every year.

Throughout the South Bay and across the Peninsula, schools are banning electronic devices and stiffening penalties. Turning around attitudes is more challenging.

In a Rutgers University study released last year, 70 percent of 18,000 high school students across the country admitted to "serious test cheating,'' and 60 percent said they had plagiarized. The study's author says the real numbers are probably higher because students today have narrowed how they define cheating.

Many of them see it as OK -- and even necessary -- to get through boring or demanding course work.

"We're so used to it, it doesn't feel like cheating,'' said Alexi Dagan, a junior at Palo Alto High School.

...Leland High in San Jose in recent years has prohibited cell phones, which some students have used to snap photo images of exam papers, call up online dictionaries as test aids and text-message answers to friends.

In Fremont, Mission San Jose High bans graphing calculators, which display and analyze mathematical function graphs, because students have programmed in answers. Now, "we make multiple versions of multiple tests,'' said Kay Barton, a government and economics teacher.

Elsewhere, students describe classmates scrolling through iPods with test answers substituted for song titles.

Trying to fight technology with technology, Palo Alto High School just began subscribing to Turnitin.com, a service that vets student papers for originality. Previously, "the way we checked was kind of by the seat of our pants. If something sounded weird, we typed it into Google,'' said Eric Bloom, chairman of the history/social science department.

Paly joins 4,000-plus high schools nationwide, many in Silicon Valley, using the Oakland-based service to guard against cheating. Turnitin, the largest of the plagiarism checking services, charges 80 cents annually per student; for a 1,700-student school like Paly, the cost would be $1,360.

Of more than 60,000 term papers submitted daily by teachers and students across the country, Turnitin finds about 30 percent are "less than original,'' meaning more than one-quarter of the text is identical to a paper in its database. That database includes 10,000 periodicals, 8 billion Web pages and 22 million student papers, said John Barrie, chief executive of parent company iParadigms.

Use of Turnitin, created in 1998, is more than doubling every 12 months, Barrie said. Many local teachers say they rely on the company.

Students can submit their papers to the service, a process that immediately teaches them that copying and pasting from the Internet or borrowing your older brother's paper doesn't qualify as original work. For those used to copying, ``It's really hard to know when you're plagiarizing or not, because it's so technical,'' said Kandace Arens, a senior at Presentation High School in San Jose.

But technology doesn't solve what students say remains the most common kind of cheating -- old-fashioned copying on tests and homework. And while teachers can reduce opportunities to cheat, reforming attitudes is harder.

Some students regard it as insurance -- give today, ask tomorrow, as a sophomore at Kennedy High in Fremont put it.

Others say they cheat to ease the load of "busy-work'' or cope with heavy course loads. "There's just not enough hours in the day to do all the work,'' said Shiv Kachru, a senior at Gunn High in Palo Alto.

He and others trace the pressure to take on all that work to families. "Parents tell kids to be honest, be good, but the same parents make kids pile on classes.''

Educators say they meet resistance from parents when trying to get struggling students to ease up or drop out of honors classes. "Heavens, you'd think we gave them a death sentence,'' said Alda O'Neill, who teaches pre-calculus and Algebra II at Mission San Jose.

Parents often refuse and say they'll hire a tutor. "We need to change the parents' ethics,'' O'Neill said.

First of all, a kid who cheats makes that decision for herself. If the parent has told the kid that cheating is okay, either directly or indirectly, that's one thing. I see kids competing with each other-- and parents competing with each other-- to see who takes the most challenging coursework. Often, once students are there, they expect high grades for a minimal amount of work. Or, I get that kids are taking a lot of classes, so I should ease up. I have pared down my classes to the minimum I feel is necessary to give kids a shot at a good score on the AP exam. I will not drop it any lower so that a kid can be overscheduled. (It doesn't make things easy when the other AP teacher assigns a fraction of the reading and uses my tests, but that's a gripe for another day....) I explain to my students that they will be competing with kids who have read four books of historical analysis in addition to the text and the primary sources. If they expect me to lower my expectations any more, they need to rethink what they're trying to get from my AP class. Cachet is not being offered here.

(I also like a kid stating that an assignment is "busy work"-- but apparently they can't complete it.)

There is this thing called opportunity cost. You cannot do everything, and do it well-- short of having a nervous breakdown. Most of my students understand that even if they get away with cheating, they're really cheating themselves, becuse they will not know that material on the exams they will face. And I do use different versions of exams to cut down on temptation. Before finals, I require my students to pull their cellphones out, turn them off in front of me, and place them on a desk in the center of the room, so that they won't forget them when evryone is done with their test. We also use turnitin.com in our district, another change for which I pushed. I don't have 15 minutes per paper to type sentences into google.

EdWonk also linked to this interesting story from Joanne Jacobs, who linked a WaPo article:
A plagiarism detective service, Turnitin, is under fire from Virginia high school students who claim their intellectual property rights in their school assignments are being violated.

The for-profit service known as Turnitin checks student work against a database of more than 22 million papers written by students around the world, as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals.
. . . But some McLean High students are rebelling. Members of the new Committee for Students' Rights said they do not cheat or condone cheating. But they object to Turnitin's automatically adding their essays to the massive database, calling it an infringement of intellectual property rights.

Students also objected to the presumption of guilt.
Thousands of colleges and high schools submit papers to Turnitin, which adds 60,000 student assignments to the database daily. At some schools, students can submit their drafts to the service to get an "originality report."

In the article Jacob cites, one student compared storing their papers for the turnitin database to searching every car in the school parking lot. This analogy doesn't work, because their papers are not sitting in their own locked property. With SEVENTY PERCENT of high school students admitting to cheating, I don't see how this complaint will wash. I am also dubious about the intellectual property claims. The papers are not being published-- they are simply being used to make sure Johnny doesn't give Sherry his paper-- which turnitin caught one of my students doing last year, much to my disgust. Most high school students do not do the kind of original work required of graduate students, either.

I do like the rough draft idea that shows up later in the same article, though:
Dan Kent, a Loudoun County social studies teacher, called Turnitin necessary in a "cut-and-paste world." When Kent became department chair at Ashburn's Broad Run High School in 1999, he said, many teachers were reluctant to assign complex research papers because of the difficulty they encountered in checking for plagiarism.

These days, many Loudoun students submit rough drafts to Turnitin. They receive an "originality report" that identifies similarities to other sources and alerts the student and teacher. Teachers then eyeball the paper and decide if the material is properly cited.

Broad Run uncovered three instances of serious plagiarism in the first year it used Turnitin, Kent said, and other cases of poor paraphrasing that students failed to recognize as inappropriate. Since 2002, he said, the service has rooted out only three additional plagiarism cases at the school.

Carney said McLean High will use a similar approach. Students will be allowed to submit unlimited numbers of drafts to the service to catch intentional or accidental overlaps. Only the final version will be graded. Students who refuse to use Turnitin will be given a zero on the assignment.

Carney predicted that McLean students would embrace the system eventually. "They'll see it's not a 'gotcha,' " she said.

The only problem I can see with this system is the time it would require. I really don't have two weeks to devote to checking one paper.

I've previously written about young people's attitutdes toward cheating here. There's also another interesting article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal here. Maybe I am hopelessly ethically obsessed, but there were times in school when I didn't finish papers, but I never thought it was cool to copy someone else's work. It's just obviously wrong. But I know that cheating is not viewed with the same averion by society. (Some day I'll tell you about the bookstore clerk who openly ridiculed me for going back into the store and telling him he hadn't charged me for two books, but that's also a post for another day.)

It would be nice if correct behavior didn't have to be verified. I would, for instance, LOVE it if the police would stop patrolling the highway when I drive home. After all, I PROMISE that I'll do the speed limit.

Cross my heart. They should just have faith in me. The fact that Jim Croce's song "Speedball Tucker" is blaring from my stereo doesn't mean anything. Now those truckers are another matter altogether....

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Just what DOES "Honors" or "AP" mean?

Here's a fascinating article from the WaPo:
In an American education system full of plans for better high schools, more and more courses have impressive labels, such as "honors," "advanced," "college prep" and "Advanced Placement." But many researchers and educators say the teaching often does not match the title.

"A company selling an orange-colored beverage under the label 'orange juice' can get in legal trouble if the beverage contains little or no actual juice," said a February report from the National Center for Educational Accountability, based in Austin. "But there are no consequences for giving credit for Algebra 2 to students who have learned little algebra."

Grade inflation is a well-known issue. Many critics of public schools contend that students nowadays get better grades for less achievement than they used to. Experts also worry about courses that promise mastery in a subject but fail to follow through. Call it course-label inflation.

The educational accountability center's researchers, Chrys Dougherty, Lynn Mellor and Shuling Jian, found course-label inflation particularly harmful to low-income and minority students. They said 60 percent of low-income students, 65 percent of African American students and 57 percent of Hispanic students who had received course credit for geometry or algebra 2 in Texas failed a state exam covering material from geometry and algebra 1. By contrast, the failure rates for non-low-income and white students were 36 and 32 percent, respectively.

U.S. Education Department senior researcher Clifford Adelman, the government's leading authority on the links between high school programs and college completion, said some high school transcripts apply the label "pre-calculus" to any math course before calculus. Some students who had taken "pre-calculus," according to the transcripts he inspected, had skills so rudimentary that they were forced to take basic algebra in their first year of college.

The College Board's Advanced Placement program plans to ask teachers soon to fill out a form confirming that their course materials meet college-level standards. Jackson said one College Board official told her of a school that had started an AP Spanish course but was using seventh-grade workbooks.

AP courses at least have final exams, written and scored by outside experts, that reveal whether students have mastered the material. Wayne Bishop, a math professor at California State University in Los Angeles, examined an AP calculus class in a Pasadena, Calif., high school. All 23 students, Bishop found, got As and Bs from their teacher, but their grades on the AP exam were the college equivalent of 21 Fs and two Ds.

Read the whole thing.

Now first, let me take issue with that last paragraph, as an AP teacher. AP exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, with a 1 being lowest. I assure you that a 2 is not the same thing as a D. "Passing" is considered to be a 3 or better. Nonetheless, I wonder how college freshmen taking a survey course would fare on the exam-- it's pretty rigorous. I bet you'd see a lot of the same thing-- kids with grades of A or B but scoring 1 or 2. The AP exam for my subject area is normed so that the average score is BELOW a passing grade of 3.

But I have seen courses labelled as "AP" when the teacher actively discourages the students from taking the exam-- where, I assume, he only wanted to cherry-pick some of the best kids without having to do all the work that is involved when you teach in such a way as to help your students actually pass the exam. It's thanks to boobs like him that I am now filling out paperwork to prove that my course deserves the designation of "AP."

In our AP classes, we pretty much take all comers. Anyone who wants to take a spin on the wheel gets a ticket to the show. I've had kids who had pretty low grades in history the previous year plunk themselves down for a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Some of them have risen to the occasion. Some have jumped off, screaming, at the amount of work required. I've had some kids who scored a 1 who told me that college was so much easier because they had taken my AP course and learned some study skills and content. Their test scores may not have shown it, but they considered themselves the better for the experience. Further, I don't discourage kids from taking the exam just to keep the scores artificially high. First, they're not "MY" scores. They're the kids' scores. Second, why put in all the work if you're not going to take the test?

Educators who create fake honors and AP courses only hurt their students. They're doing the worst thing a teacher can do to a student: lying to them.

Shame on them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Carnival of Education 85: Far Above the Median

Carol over at The Median Sib does a a fabulous job with this week's Carnival of Education. The part about money is especially informative for all of us who scrape by. Don't miss it!

And while you're there, read some of her other great stuff. She's a treasure, and she just had a blogiversary!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

USAToday highlights teacher blogs: Why do we do it?

Sunday's USAToday carried an article on teacher blogs. The article itself highlighted our very own Elementaryhistoryteacher, Folkbum, First Year Teacher, Joe Thomas, Dennis Fermoyle, and guest teacher extraordinaire Mr. Lawrence. First Year Teacher is the only one who remains "in the blogger closet" like me.

Nonteachers who write on education included Alexander Russo and Joanne Jacobs (more free advertising for her book, which is a sweet deal!).

Then there was a sidebar listing some teacher blogs--- and whoa, A Shrewdness of Apes was there! An interjection that unfortunately combined scatology and piety escaped my lips before I could stop... trying to cut back, you know.

Basically, the article pondered why teachers would blog. I'll tell you why I blog. I like the conversations that happen on blogs. I stumbled upon blogs by reading Kimberly Swigert, which led to EdWonk, which led to Mamacita and bunch of other great bloggers. I am a chronic commenter, and I had commented on a couple of blogs anonymously, when I realized there was more I wanted to say. I personally don't like commenters who completely hijack a blog-- it's like illegal immigration in cyberspace, if you ask me. I used to write all the time, essays and articles and poetry, but then career and kids and other obligations got in the way. Blogging helped me to reconnect with myself as a writer (I was already completely in touch with myself as an opinionated person!). So I decided to get my own. It was frighteningly easy.

Now, I personally try not to write too much about specific students, and if I do, I usually change some information around to make sure privacy is protected. But I have not talked about this blog with anyone at my school. Ever. I have a blog for my AP classes, and that, frankly, that is a way to save printing costs, help my students understand documents and vocabulary, and appease the environment for my big honkin' SUV.

Although I love my school, and I like most of my administrators as people, our school does not really care too much about what teachers think. Several administrators have little or no practical experience, and are subtly dismissive of teachers. Of my immediate teacher colleagues, there are not a lot of thoughtful conversations (that don't involve The Simpsons) from many of them unless they want something. I do take my vocation seriously. It seems like teachers are viewed by many who opine about public education as socialist sinecured slackers or amoral atheists or automotons who should read from a script and magically fix everything that is wrong with society and our children. So I get to speak here. And remaining anonymous is very important if I really want to be honest. I am not here to be bitchy, but I reserve that right on occasion. Further, our district is absolutely obsessive about PR. So I remain anonymous.

I have met more fascinating people through this blogosphere than I ever thought possible, people who are very kind and share my passion for education.

And that's why I blog. I imagine many others have similar reasons. I don't like people who talk, talk, talk but never listen. I don't like rudeness. Most of us in the Edusphere are not here to bitch, or provide grist for the mills of disgruntled homeschoolers or dissembling enemies of public education. I like to laugh, I like to share ideas, I like games, I like music, I love Oklahoma as only an expatriate can, and I love teaching. Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for reading. Thanks for the conversations.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oklahoma lacks specialty teachers, and wonders why. Ms. Cornelius is here to explain.

It seems that the use of exemptions from certification requirements is the only way some Oklahoma school districts can get enough math, science, special education, or modern language teachers:
...Weeks into the school year, districts statewide still lack special education, math and other "specialty" teachers.

Education officials do not say the vacancies add up to a crisis or a shortage, but the existing circumstances often call for substitute teachers, long-term substitutes and teachers hired in exception to state certification rules.

The state Department of Education granted 36 exemptions in July and August so districts could hire teach ers who often are on their way to meeting certification requirements, said Ramona Paul, assistant state superintendent.

Exemptions tend to come along state borders. Oklahoma competes with Texas, which pays teachers about $10,000 more, and Arkansas, which has just begun to pay teachers about $10,000 more, Paul said.

Still, the number of teachers that schools want to hire through exemptions is low and hasn't changed much from last year, she said. The state employs nearly 47,000 teachers.

Tulsa Public Schools advertises for teachers year-round, spokesman John Hamill said. The district has "spot needs" for a teacher here or there, but nothing unmanageable, he said.

Owasso Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Lynn Johnson said her district occasionally has to split large classes shortly after school starts. It estimates enrollment based partly on where new houses are being built, but it still sometimes gets even more students, she said.

In those instances, the district advertises the new openings or goes to its pool of applicants.

Paul said superintendents across the state say they have had fewer teachers apply for jobs in their districts. So when schools have more students than expected or when teachers leave or unexpectedly don't show up, "there's not a boatload of applicants sitting there in the personnel offices," she said.

The Catoosa school district has packed classes this year, so officials are considering hiring teaching assistants, said Assistant Superintendent Tom Pickens. The district can't hire more teachers because it has run out of classrooms. It already hired four extra teachers for the elementary and middle schools.

As always, districts statewide need special education, foreign language, math and science teachers, officials said.

State Superintendent Sandy Garrett attributed the special-education teacher needs to quick burnout.

Keith Isbell, a spokesman for Broken Arrow Public Schools, said fewer college students are majoring in special education.

Oklahoma City Public Schools has had success in offering special-education certification via professional development, spokeswoman Sherry Fair said.

"Those worked well for us in the past, and you never let up on recruiting," she said.

Garrett said schools are finding a shortage of early childhood teachers this year because 4-year-old programs have expanded statewide. Also, schools need more librarians and counselors, who must have a master's degree.

College students who major in math and science tend to go into business, so schools come up short there, too, officials said.

Puzzled? I can explain. If I were to move back to my home state, I would lose $30,000 in salary-- IF they gave me credit for all my years of experience. I actually earn more than some teachers who were MY teachers, ( and I'm no child) and who are still teaching due to the high cost of retirement. This is a scandal. And have you heard that Oklahoma has a high number of Nationally Certified Teachers? Ms. Cornelius can explain that, too. It's because the only way to get a sizeable raise is to become nationally certified.

The problem is particularly acute along the border with Texas, because Texas pays their teachers about $10,000 more. You would think that my home state wouldn't let Texas get by with beating them in anything, given our rivalry, but apparently that just counts of the football field.

Until Oklahomans get serious about valuing education, this appalling situation will continue, and kids will lack teachers in their overcrowded classrooms.

A Pyrate's Lyffe For Me!

Avast there, me hearties! Today be "Talk Like A Pirate Day!" Ye scurvy dogs must know that the pirate's life be the one for me! They call me the "Dread Pyrate Roberts!" Call me a wench and forfeit yer life, ye bilge rat! Heave to starboard and open a cask o' rum, now, and ye'll be me mate for life!

Aye... rum. Run 'r Pepsi ho! Thar be a mug o' grog for all, and I'd not be tradin' it for a dead man's chest of doubloons till ye're loaded to the gunwhales!! Thar be no designated driver on the High Seas ceptin' the Dread Pyrate Roberts! Gentlemen and Lassies o' Fortune, hear me call to arms, and join me in the Sweet Trade!

The best albums most people have never heard

Janet over at The Art of Getting By asked a question this week: What are the best albums I think most people have never heard?

Now this is a question right up my alley. I have, shall we say, a broad taste in music that only a girl who plays cello, percussion, and guitar can have. It gets so bad that I can go weeks without listening to the radio, since I am not sure I want to really subject myself to a world where Justin Timberlake can make a living. (Memo to Justin: please stop all the posturing like you're a sex symbol. It just makes us feel creepy, like when Brooke Shields' mother had her pose nude when she was 11. Real men don't talk about sex all the time, boy.)

So here are some of the best albums that of which I think you may have never heard. If you notice a predominance of guitars--- well, what's your point?

1. Crowded House, Together Alone. Neil Finn. Genius. I am eternally grateful that I finally got to see Neil and his brother Tim in concert a year or so ago. I have almost every song he has ever written, either with Split Enz, Crowded House, the Finn Brothers, or in his solo work. Superb.

2. Anything by Joni Mitchell, especially the early years. Blue. Song to a Seagull. For the Roses. Court and Spark. Unfortunately, her voice is not what it once was (too many cigarettes!), but she is still the lodestone for so many great artists. She is the foundation for everything else.

3. Nick Drake, Pink Moon. Do you remember a few years ago, there was a Volkswagon commercial showing a bunch of friends driving late at night to a party while in the background, a guy sang and played guitar? The artist was Nick Drake, who everyone assumed was one of the new alternative singer-songwriters. Surprisingly, Drake recorded three albums in the years 1969 and 1972 before he tragically committed suicide in 1974. His music is completely simple, haunting, and contemporary. You'll be glad you tried it.

4. Patty Griffin, Flaming Red. A great folk-influenced singer-songwriter with a passionate voice. Except for one song about, ummmm, giving onesself satisfaction, this is a masterpiece. Every song tells a story. "Tony," in particular, reminds me to pay attention to my students' emotional lives, since it is about a kid who is isolated and in pain.

5. The Sundays, Blind. Harriet Wheeler has one of the best pure, sweet voices in music. Ever. The cover of the Stones' "Wild Horses" is not to be missed. You cannot go wrong listening to any of the albums put out during the all-too-brief career of this British band, whose last album was 1997's Static and Silence. Harriet, where are you?

6. Suzzy and Maggie Roche, Zero Church. In the wake of September 11, 2001, two of the three Roche sisters put together this meditation upon faith and prayer. I don't really like most Christian music, but this one speaks to me. I got to hear Suzzy sing "Jeremiah" at a concert she did with the Four Bitchin' Babes. Try this even if you don't usually like religious music. This is not preachy or judgmental. It's just beautiful.

7. Aimee Mann, Live at St. Ann's Warehouse. Aimee Mann is probably one of the least appreciated singer-songwriters working today. You may remember her as the spiky-haired girl with the rattail fronting Til Tuesday in their "Voices Carry" video back in the '80s. She has done so much more since then. My favorite songs of hers are "Jacob Marley's Chain," "Little Bombs," "The Moth," and "Cigarettes and Red Vines," which is not on this album but instead on her Bachelor No. 2 album. "Invisible Ink" from Lost in Space is also brilliant. She speaks of love and loss in a literate way that puts into words all that you find so hard to say yourself.

8. The Be Good Tanyas, Blue Horse. These Canadian ladies channel bluegrass through the blues in a way that is indiscribable. "The Littlest Birds," is a highlight. I remember sitting in the Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah listening to the Tanyas and thinking, "How did I end up in a Tibetan-Buddhist-inspired restaurant in the middle of Mormon country as all my senses were made aware of the beauty that is Sunday morning?" It was enough.

9. and 10. Christine Lavin, Attainable Love and Live at the Cactus Cafe: What Was I Thinking?" Christine Lavin is a very gifted folksinger out of New York City. She is famous as a woman who can write a song about anything, as was chronicalled in the song about her called "Christine Lavin Could Do It." She is also great live in concert, although she rarely visits us rednecks here in the Land Between the Coasts. The first album contains songs both sweet and funny, and the second one is a live album. Both are great. Her funny stuff is particularly fine. See my sidebar for more information.

11. Dar Williams, The Green World. Fabulous, fabulous singer-songwriter. Why do so many musicians from New York draw me to their music, since I basically love to visit but would hate to live there? Dar's songs, like alchemy, turn the basest materials into gold. If you like to laugh, come Thanksgiving, you'll want to listen to "The Christians and the Pagans" from her Mortal City album. It's kind of like "The Odd Couple" at Christmastime.

12. Fountains of Wayne, Out of State Plates or Welcome Interstate Managers. Speaking of Justin and his former girlfriend, the Woman With the Worst Taste in Men since Halle Berry or Christie Brinkley, you've got to catch FOW's cover of "...Baby One More Time." Everyone knows "Stacy's Mom." FOW is so much more than that. Pop meets rock in a fusion that hasn't been seen since the late 70s.

13. Gomez, How We Operate. This is one of my current favorites. The title track has some amazing combinations of instrumentation.

14. Jude Cole, Start the Car. Whatever happened to Jude? I think he's now producing instead of singing, which is a shame, because he's got amazing range and sense of melody. "Worlds Apart" is a particular gem.

15. k.d. lang, Hymns of the 49th Parallel. k.d. covers the greatest Canadian songwriters, from Leonard Cohen to Joni Mitchell to Jane Siberry to Bruce Cockburn. Simply beautiful.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Movie Madness Monday 31: Lobsters behind the fridge edition

It's time for Movie Madness Monday! Step right up and see if your taste in cinema is as arcane and bizarre as mine!

Here is the basic outline: each Monday I will pick a movie and sprinkle in a few of my favorite quotes. You then stop your damn lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday.
Ready? Okay!

"There's a big lobster behind the refrigerator. I can't get it out. This thing's heavy. Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it will run out the other side."

"I can't get with any religion that advertises in Popular Mechanics."

"Hey, Harvard makes mistakes too! Kissinger taught there!"

"It's so clean out here."
"That's because they don't throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows."

"So you wanna go into the movie or what?"
"No, I can't go into a movie that's already started, because I'm anal."
"That's a polite word for what you are."

"Six year old boys don't have girls on their minds."
"I did."
"For God's sake, Alvy, even Freud speaks of a latency period."
"Well, I never had a latency period. I can't help it."

***Thursday Update: Our film is just dripping with highbrow comedic cred: it's

ANNIE HALL! You may remember this one: it was back when Woody Allen was funny. Thanks to this film, I am still enamored of hats, trousers, and neckties. Although I gotta say that the outfit above is a bit much for me.

Ahh, yes. Now that's more like it! Thanks for playing!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Best compliment this week

One of my AP kids said to me: "Wow, you know what? I learned something! I learned how to pace myself doing this assignment, and it wasn't so bad if I did a bit of it each night! Thanks, Ms. Cornelius!" And he wasn't being facetious. He may never remember why the colonists took such umbrage at the Quebec Act, but he's learned to pace himself.

Can I retire for the rest of the year? No? Rats.

(Second place goes to the girl who stopped me on cafeteria duty and speculated that I got this duty because of my, and I quote, "mad martial arts skillz (pronounced, for those of you not in the know, as 'SKEEEEEYILS')."

Dude. I'm touched.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ann Richards, 1933-2003. Rest in Peace.

God bless you, Ann Richards.
September 1, 1933- September 13, 2006

Former Texas Governor and tough lady Ann Richards passed away tonight of esophageal cancer. She was 73 years old. This woman devoted her life to public service. The quality which I most admired, besides her wit, was her honesty. She did not hide or package herself. She told it as it was. And beneath that tough exterior and big hair was a heart for Everyman.

In honor of this brave, strong woman, I would like to remind you of some of her words at the Democratic National Convention in 1988. The sad fact is that they are still remarkably true.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Buenas noches, mis amigos.

I'm delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.

Twelve years ago Barbara Jordan, another Texas woman, Barbara made the keynote address to this convention, and two women in a hundred and sixty years is about par for the course.

But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.

…You know, tonight I feel a little like I did when I played basketball in the 8th grade. I thought I looked real cute in my uniform. And then I heard a boy yell from the bleachers, "Make that basket, Birdlegs." And my greatest fear is that same guy is somewhere out there in the audience tonight, and he's going to cut me down to size, because where I grew up there really wasn’t much tolerance for self-importance, people who put on airs.

I was born during the Depression in a little community just outside Waco, and I grew up listening to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. Well, it was back then that I came to understand the small truths and the hardships that bind neighbors together. Those were real people with real problems and they had real dreams about getting out of the Depression. I can remember summer nights when we’d put down what we called the Baptist pallet, and we listened to the grown-ups talk. I can still hear the sound of the dominoes clicking on the marble slab my daddy had found for a tabletop. I can still hear the laughter of the men telling jokes you weren’t supposed to hear -- talkin' about how big that old buck deer was, laughin' about mama puttin' Clorox in the well when the frog fell in.

They talked about war and Washington and what this country needed. They talked straight talk. And it came from people who were living their lives as best they could. And that’s what we’re gonna do tonight. We’re gonna tell how the cow ate the cabbage.

I got a letter last week from a young mother in Lorena, Texas, and I wanna read part of it to you. She writes,
“Our worries go from pay day to pay day, just like millions of others. And we have two fairly decent incomes, but I worry how I’m going to pay the rising car insurance and food. I pray my kids don’t have a growth spurt from August to December, so I don’t have to buy new jeans. We buy clothes at the budget stores and we have them fray and fade and stretch in the first wash. We ponder and try to figure out how we're gonna pay for college and braces and tennis shoes. We don’t take vacations and we don’t go out to eat. Please don’t think me ungrateful. We have jobs and a nice place to live, and we’re healthy. We're the people you see every day in the grocery stores, and we obey the laws. We pay our taxes. We fly our flags on holidays and we plod along trying to make it better for ourselves and our children and our parents. We aren’t vocal any more. I think maybe we’re too tired. I believe that people like us are forgotten in America.”

Well of course you believe you’re forgotten, because you have been.

This Republican Administration treats us as if we were pieces of a puzzle that can’t fit together. They've tried to put us into compartments and separate us from each other. Their political theory is “divide and conquer.” They’ve suggested time and time again that what is of interest to one group of Americans is not of interest to any one else. We’ve been isolated. We’ve been lumped into that sad phraseology called “special interests.” They’ve told farmers that they were selfish, that they would drive up food prices if they asked the government to intervene on behalf of the family farm, and we watched farms go on the auction block while we bought food from foreign countries. Well, that’s wrong!

Former teacher, commissioner, first female governor of Texas to be elected in her own right, recovering alcoholic, motorcycle mama, wit, gentle soul, mother, grandmother, incisive orator, tough cookie. She was always a survivor. Only cancer could finally defeat her.

Notable quotes from this American legend:

"Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date."

"I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could. I was in college before I found out he might be wrong.”

“I believe in recovery, and I believe that as a role model I have the responsibility to let young people know that you can make a mistake and come back from it.”

"They blame the low income women for ruining the country because they are staying home with their children and not going out to work. They blame the middle income women for ruining the country because they go out to work and do not stay home to take care of their children."

Let me close with the words of another tough Texas gal, Molly Ivins who wrote these word upon the occasion of Mrs. Richards’ defeat to George W. Bush in 1995:

“Ave Atque Vale, Miz Ann. Hail and farewell, Governor Richards. Adios, Annie. Keep your wagon between the ditches. May your days be full of laughter. Good on ya.”

Good night, dear lady.

****Update: Here is Molly Ivins' tribute to Governor Richards. It is spot on. Go and read! You'll laugh... and wipe away a tear.

Monday, September 11, 2006


For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.

...Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

...On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Ev'n from the tomb the voice of nature cries,
Ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires.

-- From "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray

Movie Madness Monday 30: My birthday present

Welcome back, my compatriots, for yet another Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game. Here's how we play: I give you a few of my favorite quotes from a movie. You comment with at least one quote of your own from the same movie. We do not reveal the name of the movie until Wednesday, so that everyone gets a chance to play!

Let’s see how many quotes you can come up with from this week’s offering!

“Our list of allies grows thin.”

“Oh that's nice - ash on my tomatoes.”

“Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life.”

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

“Nobody tosses a dwarf.”

“No, thank you. We don't want any more visitors, well-wishers, or distant relations.”

“I would have would have called you my brother... my captain... my king.”

“It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing. Such a little thing.”

**** Wednesday Update: This week's film is

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring!

Now how many of you out there actually think of this image FIRST
before you think of the film? Oh yes, I read this very edition numerous times until it actually disintegrated into about five pieces. And I must give Peter Jackson a thumbs up on his brilliant adaptation. It was almost exactly like I had imagined.

If you have not treated yourself to this epic, you really must. But read the book, too.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Far Out! In which I get a surprise from Oklahoma...

I've been nominated for an OkieBlogger award! For those of you who ARE OkieBloggers, go vote for your favorites! For those of you who aren't OkieBloggers, go read these anyway! For those of you who are Texas Longhorn fans, go hang your head in shame! If you're from Arkansas, I'm so sorry you can't read this.

Here are all the nominees:
Best Overall Blog
An Audience of One - BatesLine - Cutting to the Chase - Daily Bitch - dustbury
Erudite Redneck,B.S.,B.S., M.A. - Gleeson Bloglomerate - Rocks in my Dryer - Taste the World

Best Political Blog
BatesLine - Existential Ramble - JMBzine - Left End of the Dial - Life and Deatherage - MeeCiteeWurkor - Okie Funk - Oklahoma Political News Service - Practical Progressive - Roemerman on Record

Best Family Blog
But I digress... - Dan and Angi Have Something to Say - Danz Family - feebeeglee - Happy Homemaker - Life is a state of mind - Rocks in my Dryer - Redneck Diva - Sleeping Mommy - What Makes A Housewife Desperate?

Best Humor Blog
Daily Bitch - dirty ashtray - Don't Try This At Home - Friday Playdate - Joel - Redneck Diva - Rocks in my Dryer - Sean Gleeson - Welcome to Pantsylvania - Will Blog for Guinness

Best Audio Blog
Elmo Cast - Sawed-off Soundtracks - Our Tulsa World - Passionate America - The Bart and Cindy Podcast Show - Daily Bitch - The WynnCast - Ugly Girls Club

Best Blog Layout
111 Brad Street - Agent Bedhead - Daily Bitch - Endless Nameless - Euphoric Reality - Gleeson Bloglomerate - Incurable Insomniac - Smosey - Taste the World - Tulsa Topics

Best Unusual Blog
3:40 a.m. - Bonnie, Baylor and Duchess - CycleDog - Matching Dragoons - My Oklahoma Life
OklaCookiemaker Quilts - phalapatate - Program Witch Pages - SewChic - The Mist

Best Writing Blog
51313 Harbor Street - An Audience of One - Cutting to the Chase - Daily Bitch - dustbury - Fits & Starts - Glass Rose Petals - McCarty Musings - pith, marrow, and coffee spoons - Route 66 News

Best Culture Blog
A Sweet, Familiar Dissonance - AKA Mike Horshead - Blog Oklahoma.us - Doug Dawgs Blog -Incurable Insomniac - Library Stories - Lip Schtick - Lost Tulsa - Sister Scorpion - Written World

Best Commentary
Catholic Ragemonkey - Mainstream Baptist - No Blog of Significance - Okie Funk - Our Tulsa World - SHREWDNESS OF APES - Streak's Blog - T Town Tommy - Two-Headed Blog - WynnBlog

Best Inspirational Blog
An Audience of One - Anabaptist Monk - Catholic Ragemonkey - Counseling Notes - CowPi Journal - Existential Ramble - Mainstream Baptist - No Blog of Significance - The Pub - Tom's Thoughts

Best Commercial Blog
DoubleShot Coffee Company - ITLnet Blog - LOOK@OKC - Oklahoma Wine News - Phil and Drew (and Kaci too) - Staticblog

There are some great blogs on this list-- and others who aren't. I am glad they let involuntary ex-pats like me in. Check out some of these-- you'll thank me!

O captain, my captain! Advice for administrators

A while back, a friend asked me what advice I would give administrators, since we were discusing advice to new teachers. After having gotten through the first few weeks of school, I am riled up enough now that I'm going to pick up that challenge. So here we go: advice for vice principals, principals, assistant superintendents, superintendents, and any other person who gets to dip their toes into actual policy-making for the educational world.

First, let's deal with experience.

If you have very little teaching experience, be willing to seek advice from veteran teachers or administrators whenever you are unsure about a course of action. They will be able to understand how it will impact the learning environment, and you will be prevented from floundering very publicly because you overlooked some major consequence of your decisions.

And if you do have little experience in front of a classrooom of squirming, energetic, or just ornery young people, handle evaluations and demands on teachers very carefully. All the ed school classes in the world will not give you insight into what it's like to perform the juggling-with-flaming-torches-while-lion-taming-while-documenting-every-action-in-triplicate act that is teaching.

(Unfortunately, in my neck of the woods, there are four kinds of principals: 24-year-olds who taught for two years, 45-year-olds who taught for two years twenty years ago, 50 year-olds who taught for ten years and since then have been administrators, and, yes, principals who never spent one single day in a classroom of their own. Three of these four things are usually very bad.

Now listen, EdWonk has a post right now about how hard it is for some school districts to find good principals. I have an idea that could fix this, if I were Queen of the Eduworld: I would like to see all administrators rotate back into the classroom for a full year every five years. They would deal with all the paperwork that gets shoved on teachers, they would try to teach under NCLB, they would see what it's like to perform all those duties and try to plan and grade and stay abreast of current research. They would see how being lax on discipline affects the learning environment and climate of the school. This would also help solve the principal shortage problem, because a spot would open up for a staff member who has gained his or her administrative certification to do a year-long practicum, just the same as teachers do. The administrator would come back to his or her position with a lot of practical knowledge and appreciation for the teaching life as it is now, and the practicum administrator would get a taste of what being an administrator is all about. Of course, the Queen would also issue a decree that no one could be an administrator until they have taught in a classroom with a regular schedule for at least ten years. And Her Royal Highness would also demand that coaches would have to teach an academic subject before they became administrators.

And if an administrator thinks being back in the classroom is a punishment rather than an opportunity, then he or she has a poisonous and dismissive attitude toward teaching and teachers which is probably coming across loud and clear to the teachers with whom this person works. This person has no business being in a school. And that means you, Secretary Spellings.)

Oh, and ask someone who's capable to proofread any written materials you will send out into the community. Nothing looks worse than having a newsletter from a school that is full of misspelled words and grammatical errors (not to mention my bete noir, apostrophe misuse).

Now, let's deal with collegiality.

Treat people with respect, and you will receive respect. Treat people with disdain, and you will be treated with disdain. Treat teachers as your colleagues and teammates, and teachers will treat you the same. If you behave this way, when you have to lay down the law, you will have a bank of goodwill from which to draw.

Do not have favorites among the staff members, and for God's sake, don't have a romantic relationship with one, either. This causes nothing, and I mean NOTHING, but trouble. Be wary of bootlickers who are trying to suck up to you, versus people who are merely friendly colleagues. Those toadies are usually either A) incompetent and want you as a friend for protection, or B) they want your job.

Consider some spirit-building events and random acts of kindness for the staff, such as providing hors d’oeuvres in the staff lounge during parent-teacher conference nights, or making sure staff have bathroom breaks during testing.

Be willing to laugh at yourself. God knows there will be plenty of opportunities to do so.

For the next topic, let's address professionalism.

Be on time.

Be visible in the school hallways and classrooms.

Be a person of your word. If you say you are going to visit classrooms, then for Pete's sake visit them.

Ask for imput from the staff whenever you're contemplating a major policy change. They may have some good ideas. Don't make it impossible for staff to talk to you. Before acting, ask yourself: "Will this improve the learning climate in the school?" Then really contemplate the answer.

Be responsible. If you know of a teacher who is not performing, don't ignore it. Offer remediation, document attempts to resolve the isues, and, if none of that works, for the good of the children get rid of that dead wood, no matter how annoying all the paperwork is! Most of the other staff members will thank you, and even if they don't, ensuring that all children work with effective teachers should be your primary job.

Let me repeat that: Ensuring that all children work with effective teachers should be your primary job. Not budgets, or meetings, or repaving the parking lot. All of those things are important, but making sure children learn in your building or district is JOB ONE.

Demonstrate accountability. Don't spend $10,000 (or even $1,000) renovating your office when your staff are sitting on cracked, avocado-green plastic chairs under mildewed ceiling tiles. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. And try to make sure that teachers aren't forced to spend their own money on school supplies. It will happen, but it shouldn't.

Be reasonable. Don't ask people to do things which you are not willing to do yourself. This means, for instance, that you should not write a draconian dress code or ID policy and tell the staff must enforce it, and then not follow through with the consequences. Actually, a good principal should adhere to the behavior guide. If there's a rule you don't like, work to get it removed for next year. But while it's there, deal with it. This echoes advice I recommend to teachers: Only have the rules you are going to enforce, and enforce the rules you have.

Be aware. Don't ignore a teacher who has come up to you in the hallway when you are smalltalking with another administrator. I once had a principal ignore me and give me the "talk to the hand" gesture when I was desperately trying to get his assistance with a fight that was on the verge of breaking out. So while he rambled on about his new puppy, three kids ended up smashing each other into lockers and kicking each other. He then had the nerve to chew me out for not telling him about the impending fight, because I "let them get away."

Be present. Don't cluster in a group and laugh and talk when you're supposed to be supervising an area. I have seen administrators continually huddle in a circle and arrogantly turn their backs on students and staff when they could have spent that time making contact with others and finding out what was going on in the school. There have been countless times when I or one of my colleagues has been the only adult in a hallway or cafeteria watching over 500 kids by ourselves. If there has been a situation that has developed, all the administrators should not go trooping off to the office and leave students unsupervised.

Be consistent. Have only one standard of discipline. If you have a school rule that students must obey and be respectful to all staff members, don't let kids get away with cursing the custodians or secretaries or the teachers-- and if you don't have such an expectation, then you should add one. A student who is insubordinate to the teachers or staff should get the same consequence as if that kid had done the same thing to YOU.

Further, know the law. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, teachers have the right to know information about the students that will help them help the students. Don't withhold information about students from those who spend most of their day with them. I have previously written about that issue here. Teachers are education professionals.

Well, those are my suggestions for administrators. I'm sure the above is not exhaustive, but it's a start.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Macho, macho man Carnival!

Scott over at Get On the Bus has put together a disco-dancin', constume wearin', Village People Carnival of Education. Suddenly, satin jackets, roller skates, John Travolta's white suit, fingers pointing skyward, high heel sneakers, the Bay City Rollers, Le Chic, Anita Ward Ringin' my Bell, and especially Gloria Gaynor all come flooding back to me in a mad rush.

And thanks, Scott, for giving me the excuse to link to THIS, which made me laugh when I was lower than low. This is probably my favorite piece of animation ever. EVER. And that's saying something for the girl who can sing all of "What's Opera, Doc?"

So now that I've given you an earworm, go read the Carnival. You'll be pointing your finger to the sky and doing the white man's overbite, too.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

US Student artists give the gift of memories

Of course I watched the debut of Katie Couric tonight, and I was deeply touched by this story from CBS news:

At the base of a volcano in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, there's an orphanage. Although Third World orphanages aren't normally festive places, on this day, at this time, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports that there was reason to celebrate: the arrival of a young man named Ben Schumaker.

Schumaker comes from a faraway place called Wisconsin, and he comes bearing gifts. "Ideally these would be something that the kids could hold onto for their whole lives," he says.

Schumaker carries a suitcase with 62 pounds of portraits — portraits of the kids, a painting for just about each and every one of them.

"They share everything, so they don't have much they can call their very own," says Jayden Kirn, a director at the orphanage. "I think it will touch them profoundly once they get down and get a private moment to sit and look at that picture."

Remember, these kids didn't have parents snapping baby pictures. Most don't even have a single photo, let alone a precious painting.

Schumaker calls this The Memory Project. The idea is to establish a sense of personal heritage. He started it in college and still runs it out of a bedroom at his parents' house in Madison, Wis. So far, he's given out more than 4,000 portraits to orphans around the world.

Of course, Schumaker doesn't paint them all. Instead, he gets someone to take photos of the kids, then sends those photos to high school art teachers across the United States; the teachers assign the portraits to their students.

This is where the idea goes from good to genius. The American kids who paint these portraits have to spend hours staring into the faces of their orphan subjects. Schumaker says that after working on them for so long — after painting their eyes especially — there's often a real connection.

"Every day they come into the art classroom and, bam — there it is — looking right into the eyes," he says. "To be totally honest, that's the main reason why I do this work."

Schumaker says for every portrait he gives out, there's a student back home who is now a little more aware of our needy world. That's why he eventually says he'd like to make his Memory Project part of every high school art class in the country.

"And if it can raise the net level of compassion in the world by that much, I'll be happy," he says.

To Schumaker, compassion is a word that's worth a thousand pictures.

To learn more about The Memory Project, click here. To find out more about the orphanage featured in the story, go to Friends Of The Orphans.

This is a wonderful program and a wonderful way to make our students aware of the kind of deprivation which exists in the world. You can go to the cbsnews website to see a photo essay about this project here.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Movie Madness Monday 29: Righteous Dude edition

As we rest from our labors, here comes this week's Movie Madness Monday, the trivia game that tests your ability to store useless bits of information.

Here's how to play: I provide quotes from a movie. You provide a quote of your own (OR TWO!) from the movie-- in the comments section. The movie's name is then revealed on Wednesday. It's simple! It's fun! And, it's inevitable, because here it comes!

“So what Jefferson was saying was ‘Hey! You know, we left this England place because it was bogus. So if we don't get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we'll just be bogus too.’ Yeah?”

“Aloha. My name is Mr. Hand.”

“This is US history—I see the globe right there.”

“Hey, Bud—What’s your problem?”

“I’m a little slow today—I just switched to Sanka. So have a heart.”

“’I Don’t Know.’—I like that. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to leave your words on the board for all of my classes to enjoy—giving you full credit, of course.”
“All right!”

“I’m a single, successful guy.”

“Learn it. Know it. Live it."

“When it comes to making out-- whenever possible, put on side 1 of Led Zeppelin IV.”

EXTRA CREDIT: How many cool things are in this movie that effectively no longer exist? Besides-- much to my everlasting distress, showers after PE? Not to mention Anthony Edwards' full head of luxuriant hair....

****Update: This week's movie was

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH! Makes me want to walk up to a tasty wave and say, "Hey, Dude! Let's Party!"

So many great actors are here: Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage (don't blink or you'll miss him), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ray Walston, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli, Phoebe Cates.... and director Amy Heckerling makes them all shine. Truly one of the best movies about high school ever!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A cautionary tale

I was reading a post over at Get On the Bus in which Scott talks about walking his 5- and 7-year-old daughters to school less than a mile away. He then fondly remembers walking to school by himself and contemplates this kind of freedom for his own kids (until his wife comments immediately, which was rather amusing).

Let me take you back over 30 years ago (how much over is none of your beeswax), when Ms. Cornelius was just a wee ape. Tiny, in fact, which just goes to show that from a tiny acorn a mighty (wide) oak can grow. Cornsilk hair, and a good wind could blow her over-- and since this was Oklahoma, that did happen on occasion. Mom was home with my younger brother and baby sister. So I walked home from kindergarten every day. It was through the neighborhood, after all, so what could be safer?

Until one day when it wasn't. The man pulled his car over just slightly ahead of me and got out. He asked me if I had seen his puppy, and asked if I would come with him-- he had candy-- to help him find it. I had stayed about 15 feet away from him, and to this day I still remember the T-shirt stretched over his gut, gray from being washed too much, the stubble, the thin greasy hair, the chinos. It was the middle of the day, I was three blocks from home, and I knew NO ONE on this street.

The house I was in front of had a chain link fence around the back yard. He took a step closer to me with his hand outstretched, and I ran for that fence. Cleared it in two steps and as I went over the top I caught the hem of my pantsleg on the tines on the top so I temporarily hung upside down on the other side. I could see my papers fluttering to the ground, and the man was running toward me. My hand hit the ground, and I kicked my trapped foot free and cartwheeled away from the fence. A dog next door started barking at the man and charging toward the gate. I ran to the back of the yard and climbed over into the next yard. When I looked back the man was gone.

I wanted my mama, and I wanted her BAD, so I decided to keep going. I ended up crossing two more streets and climbing through four more backyards until I got to my street, and then I ran down that until I got home, where I pounded on the door for what seemed like forever until my mom let me in. The police never found that man, and for weeks afterward, I would get scared when I heard a car pull up and stop outside our house, because I was afraid I had led him to my house.

I didn't walk to school again until we moved to east Tulsa a couple of years later, after the neighborhood started going a little more S.E. Hinton on us (particularly The Outsiders and That Was Then, This is Now).

And that was then, and this is now. It's not like molesters and creeps haven't been around forever. I am immensely glad that I was enough of a tomboy that I could climb those fences.

But I woudn't let my kids walk to school in my neighborhood, and it's much nicer than where we lived when I was in kindergarten. This experience did not turn me into a white-knuckle parent, but if the world had predators like that 30 years ago, you can't be too careful now.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Replay: Okay, rookie, we're gonna put you in: Suggestions for setting up your classroom

Note: This is a rerun of the classroom management advice that I posted on June 29. It has been suggested that I repost it. If you have already read it, move along. Nothing to see here. Thanks for stopping by. Don't mean to bore you.

There is another treasure trove of sage advice over at NYC Educator's place. Go read it!

I imagine that there are scads of people out there in the world who have gotten the happy news that they have been hired for the upcoming school year. There are more hopefuls who are currently undergoing that agony known as interviewing as they search for their first teaching contract.

Therefore, I feel that it is my duty as an official Wizened Veteran of the Classroom (I prefer this term to Ancient Hidebound Broad) to share the knowledge I have gained through sweat, toil, and personal peril lo, these many years, as a lion-tamer pedagogue. Several of my edusphere friends have also generously contributed their insight. This post has now become a kind of "Carnival of Classroom Survival," in fact!

First, oh paduan, consider classroom management.

Have only the rules you are willing to consistently enforce, and consistently enforce the rules you have. Have general classroom expectations written up in a succinct style, avoiding "Don't"s, and hand them out the first day of school. Try to keep the expectations to five.

Post the learning goal and agenda for the day on the board every day. Include homework to be assigned and due date.

Never threaten a consequence to a student unless you are actually willing to follow through with it. This is vital in making your life easier for the rest of the year. You must be a person of your word.

Write referrals only after you have attempted lesser consequences, including privately conferencing with the student and calling the student's guardian. If the student is displaying certain kinds of emotional outbursts which seem "over the top" or otherwise unwarranted, you might also consider a non-discipline referral to the counselor, if you have access to them. You will earn the disdain of your administrators if you write up students without following these steps first. Furthermore, some administrators will use your "failure" to attempt to deal with the situation yourself as an excuse to refuse to act upon their part. Linda adds: "Read the student discipline code, and frame any disciplinary referrals in EXACTLY those words. I failed to do this last year, in a new school, and didn't realize that the magic word (level 2 offense) was "disrespectfu.l" When that word was used, the administration acted."

Keep track of each attempt you have made to deal with a difficulty. When the Wizened Veteran was starting out, she kept a binder divided by class period, with a sheet for each student she had had to discipline. I have also used a computer, but a binder is more portable. Whether on paper or on computer, this is an easy reference to use, but keep it secure. I did not fill this out in front of the students.

Don't be afraid to call guardians. If you call a guardian and only get an answering machine or voicemail, leave a message for the guardian asking him or her to call in a pleasantly neutral voice and record when you did this. Don't get into the gory details in a message.

Before calling, find out what the name of the student's guardian is, and what relationship that person has to the student. Don't assume that they share a last name or that they are necessarily the mother or father. Loads of kids are being raised by grandparents, aunts, and even older siblings. In fact, as mister teacher relates, don't make assumptions based on appearance about guardians upon meeting them, either. Everyone used to think that my mother was my grandmother, for instance, because she was older than the other parents. Another teacher adds, "Not all teachers have to worry about this, but in addition to finding out who lives at home, etc, I have to find out what language they speak so I can have an interpreter ready if the need be." This is also very something which is a consideration more often than you might think. Of course I once had a kid whose parents spoke Russian, so there wasn't much help there. For that problem, I have two words for you: Babel Fish. You can type text in and get a pretty reasonable translation back in all kinds of languages. I have used it with great success.

Aprilmay also has an excellent suggestion: "Find the adult who has the most influence on the child when you need to deal with serious issues. It can take some work, but oftentimes a "Nana" or favorite auntie can work wonders when it comes to motivation!" I have had hardened thugs who quaked in the face of a harsh word from Gramma.

Start your conversation by expressing your faith in the student to resolve the issue. Try, "Hello Mrs. Pzzlethwt? I am Junior Pzzlethwt's math teacher at Extraordinary High School. How are you today?"

Then, remember, a gentle word turns away wrath, as this lovely lady once demonstrated. Euphemisms are your friend! "Junior has some exceptional verbal skills, and I was hoping you could help me in persuading him to use them at the correct time." (This means Junior never shuts up.) Always remark that you know Junior has the potential to do better, and thank the guardian for their help in advance.

Don't ever get into a contest of wills with a parent or a student. They don't have to agree with you-- as in, your attitude should calmly be, "You don't have to agree with me, but this is what will happen..." And sorry to say, guardians get to be rude to you with few consequences, but you will be nailed if you are rude to them.

Script the basic gist of what is said during the phone call, and keep that in your binder, along with time and date of call. I once pulled this out when a parent insisted I call her from the principal's office, and very mildly read back to her her own words which she was denying. She had been insisting that I had never contacted her about her darling's difficulty. When she saw that I had a record of every conversation, complete with time and duration of call, she gave up. As our friend nyc educator points out, this also helps cover one's posterior with one's administrators.

Emails, if you have the means, are even better, but still be diplomatic in your wording, because, remember, emails can be forwarded a million times over without your knowledge. And keep a copy of the email you sent-- I printed them out and saved them in the binder.

Start the class on time. Do not cheat the students who are on time in the name of stragglers who stumble in tardy.

Model good behavior. I personally say please and thank you to my students. I somehow have difficulty hearing students who do not extend the same courtesy to me. It's a very strange form of deafness.

Try to get the students on your side when it comes to classroom management. It is actually much more effective if a student knows that his peers will not tolerate his goofing off or disrupting class.

Graycie has another good point: "Walk out amongst'em. Sometimes just standing next to a kid and smiling without breaking the flow of what you are saying to the whole class will stop her dead in her tracks." Slowly move around the room, if your instruction permits it. It will keep all the students on their toes, encourage participation, and keep heads from drooping.

Mr. Lawrence makes an excellent suggestion to which I personally adhere. Consider placing your desk at the backs of your students. This enables you to see what is going on unobtrusively. Students will realize this and they will stay on task with much less prompting. Our district has laptop computers that the students can use. With my desk behind the students, I can view screens easily to see what exactly they're looking at on the 'net- whether they're actually doing research or if they're trying to IM their friends or access Facebook.

Keep the students engaged until the bell rings. Remember, you-- NOT the bell-- dismiss the class. Otherwise, each day the students will knock off a bit earlier.

Mike in Texas reminds us, "Trust, but verify." When a child claims that she has done the technicolor yawn, tossed his cookies, ralphed, whatever-- make sure she has. Oh, and watch for the finger-down-the-throat trick before a quiz or test.

And seriously, if a student feels ill, goes to the restroom, and doesn't come back in four or five minutes, send a trustworthy kid of the same gender to go check on her. She may have passed out in there, or she may be scamming and roaming the halls. In either case, you want to know.

Darren adds: "'Without' is a powerful word. When giving instructions, simultaneously tell students what you want them to do (using concrete terms) and what you don't want them to do. 'Please open your textbooks to page 73 without talking.' Telling students to "be quiet" doesn't work; telling them what to do (take out your textbooks) and what not to do (without talking) does. Give it a try!"

Now, let us consider supplies.

Part of your job as a teacher is to reinforce a burgeoning sense of personal responsibility in your young charges.

If you keep pencils or pens on your desk, they will disappear. If you can afford this, fine. However, a word of warning. If you consistently give out pencils or paper or whatever, expect your students to regularly come to class without them, knowing that you will remove this responsibility from their shoulders. Your choice. I use very bizarre novelty pens for myself, and anyone trying to cadge one of these would be busted immediately.

Same thing with textbooks. If you give out textbooks to those who do not bring theirs, soon no one will bring their texts to class. If you want to distribute ten of them every class period and lose five minutes of teaching time, that's your choice, but plan accordingly. Make sure you take them up at the end of the period (another five minutes lost there) or you will be missing a whole slew of books by the third week of school. And while you're managing this distribution, what are the other students doing?

I like keeping a little box of golf pencils in my desk for those who cannot master their writing utensil management skills. Students tend not to want to borrow these more than once. You can also keep a cup of used pencils you have found in the hallway for distribution. I personally also like to have my dog or a convenient toddler to put chew marks on them so they won't be so appealing to those who seem need some assistance from St. Anthony of Padua in this regard.

On the other hand, be on the lookout for a student who cannot afford supplies. I often claim to have "found" spirals or pencils for these students lying around unclaimed in my classroom, and privately let them know what a favor they would be doing me if they could possibly put them to use instead of forcing me to harm the environment by discarding them. These items are often found for sale in bulk at the end of July through the first few days of September. You can often buy spirals for a dime-- those that are sold this way are called "loss-leaders" because the supply stores take a beating on them to get you into the store. I buy about thirty for myself each year, and those I don't use, I donate to a needy school affiliated with my house of worship.

Q's personal legend has a neat system: "I also have a station in the room for stuff the kids can use: stapler, hand sanitizer, hole punch, kleenex, etc. And, (you will laugh), I made large magic marker outlines of these things on the table. It looks funny, but the kids always return it to its 'home,' and I don't have to keep saying, 'Where is my stapler?!'"

And, since teachers are often klutzy because we are rushed, and kids are just klutzy in general, I suggest you keep the following things on hand in your desk in a little box (one of my students made one for me): Shout wipes, plug-in air fresheners, odor neutralizer spray, antiperspirant, a needle and some thread, safety pins, peppermints, lotion, astringent, cotton pads (like the ones used by the nurse), latex gloves, bandaids, and a flashlight with working batteries. I once had the power go out for TWO HOURS in a room with no windows. And we were instructed to keep the kids in the room while they tried to fix it. Fun.

Now, let's deal with presentation and attitude.

Boy Scout motto? Be prepared. Teacher motto? OVERPLAN. Always have more activities on hand than you can possibly use in a class period.

Have a sense of humor. Be willing to laugh gently at yourself. Self-deprecation goes a long way to establishing a sense of rapport with your students.

Keep a folder on your desk in case you ever need a sub. I label it "SUB FOLDER" in really large, bright letters. Include in it your classroom expectations, UPDATED seating charts, complete with pronunciation guides if needed, and an emergency lesson for each class in case you get hit by a runaway oxcart on the way to work and have no chance to send in real lesson plans. Make it simple, but interesting. Mr. Lawrence, who works as a substitute, echoes this advice. You cannot expect the students to read quietly for two hours for a sub. (There are all kinds of books in the bookstore or classroom supply stores that have suggestions for cute little activities, if your brain is befuddled.) I usually include at least one activity which must be turned in by the end of class to keep the students occupied. Once again, OVERPLAN, leaving the sub the option of granting the students a reprieve on a deadline or on an assignment if they behave superbly. Carrots and sticks, people, is better when you've need more carrot rather than more stick. In the classroom expectations, you would be wise to spell out your policies on quizzes and tests, such as "All quizzes are to be done individually by the students, not as group work or in 'Jeopardy' format." I have had subs who have allowed students to use their books on unit tests or to do them as a group. No kidding.

Always err toward joking rather than bitching with your coworkers. You make a first impression only once, but you can ruin your reputation over and over.

Spangles, one of our colleagues, notes, "Eat lunch with your colleagues. It builds bonds, lets you form a friendly relationship, and gets you out of the classroom for at least a few minutes. You might give it up later, but it's a worth a start. I was a young new teacher and I formed a strong bond with my older, wiser team members because I ate lunch with them each and every day. It made it easier to laugh at myself and my students." Excellent advice. Your colleagues are your lifeline.

However, unless you have the metabolism of a three-year-old, avoid cafeteria food and bring your lunch. Cafeteria food includes a percentage of fat and amount of calories geared toward growing young bodies. If you don't want a widening older body, stay away from the ersatz nachos and mystery meat chili and the turkey burgers. But don't skip lunch.

Do not get angry, and strive not to take things personally. If the kids know they can provoke you, they will try to do it at every opportunity. Remember the scene in Finding Nemo when Bruce gets a whiff of Dory's blood? Avoid tempting your students in this fashion. I personally get quieter when students are crossing the line. Work on developing a "look" which strikes wrongdoers dumb. Works wonders.

Our colleague Tree_Story adds: "Your best friends can be the custodians and front office secretary. Be courteous and always say thank you and they can make your year soooo much nicer." Happychyck includes the building or district tech person in this golden circle of demigods, and rightly so.

Graycie reminds us: "Never be afraid to say, 'I don't know. How can we find out?'" Then have the students actually find the answer. The goal of teaching students is to enable them to get along without a teacher. Don't just abandon questions they've asked to which you do not know the answer-- these are the questions which have sparked their interest, and a good teacher wants to fan that spark into an inferno.

And finally, consider health maintenance.

Wear comfortable shoes with some support. Teachers have some of the worst back problems of all professions because we spend so much time on our feet. Avoid heels. You will rarely sit down.

Keep yourself hydrated. Take your vitamins, especially vitamin C.

You've heard of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out)? Remember WIWO (Water In, Water Out). Yes, since what goes in must come out, also try to avoid the common teacher pitfall of not going to the can until 4 pm. You will get kidney and bladder problems, and with your insurance, you can't afford that.

Offer students a couple of points of extra credit to bring in two good boxes of tissue at the start of the school year if your school does not provide the good stuff. You'll thank me during flu season.

Have two trash cans in your room: one for student use, and one for you. You'll see why this is health related in a second.

Have two boxes of tissue out at any one time. One box should be hidden away for you, and the used tissues go into your personal trash can, which I stash behind my desk. The other box is for the students, and should be placed away from your desk or where you stand most often in the room. The student trash can goes under this box of tissue, and away from you. You will avoid a LOT of colds this way. Trust me. With your insurance, you can't afford that either, not to mention that it takes FOUR hours to write lesson plans for a seven hour day.

Keep disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer in your desk. Wipe down the surfaces of your desk regularly, including phone, particularly if Mary Typhus, who is hacking up a storm, has just used your phone to talk to her mom. Clean the student desks and the doorknob every once in a while, as well.

Finally, if you are really sick, don't go to school. You will make yourself worse, and end up using the princely number of sick days you have been allotted in one mad swoop.

Well, those are some of my sure-fire, handy dandy tips. If anyone has any others, I'd be glad to add them on with credit given.

Now, go get 'em, Tiger.

free statistics